The empowered principal – intention

What is your business intention, Neil Sikka questions.

Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor and renowned psychiatrist, wrote extensively about his experiences in Auschwitz. He made many profound statements but there is one that always stays in my mind.

‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’

I must have read this line hundreds of times. Each time I revel in the simplicity of something so fundamental to the way we conduct ourselves on a daily basis. Just imagine, how many times have you made a quick decision that has changed the course of events in your life both in the short, medium and long term?

Is it worth taking the time to consider the ‘space’ between response and stimulus that governs our destiny?

Over 25 years owning, growing and running my own group of private dental practices, I can think of countless times where this ‘space’ has influenced my future. I remember my first Christmas Eve at our new practice. After a long day, I was about to pack my things away and run home to enjoy the festivities when the phone rang. The distraught gentleman pleaded with me to remain as he had just cracked a tooth. I decided to stay and sort his problem out. I also had to return between Christmas and New Year to complete his treatment. He was immensely grateful and has remained a lifelong patient, bringing along his family too.

He also happened to be a managing partner of one of the largest law firms in the world! After a little coaxing, he invited me to present my corporate dental plan to his team. The proposal was successful and gave me the launch pad I so craved. The firm was my first corporate client and continues its association to this day.

As principals, we are presented with multiple situations on a daily basis that require our response. I for one, have jumped in with both feet on many occasions only to regret my actions later.


Do you always feel pressured into making a quick decision? There are times when an instant response is required but if you, like me, make hasty decisions, they can come back to bite you later.

Let us consider Frankl’s statement and his suggestion that we try to understand how considering the ‘space’ will allow us to enjoy our freedom and influence our destiny.

What did Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi all have in common? How did they become so successful at delivering their message? Why were they so believable? Did they just tell a great story, act as wonderful orators, deliver a good pitch? Or was it because they absolutely to their core, believed in everything they said and did? It may have been freedom, equality, fairness or fighting racism. Whatever words we choose, their ultimate message could be paired down to a few simple words. These great leaders all used the ‘space’ between response and stimulus to make the right decisions. Their ‘intention’ was clear.


Intention is often defined simply as an aim or a plan. These are things we execute on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. However, on a grander scale, as individuals, we all have a single intention underpinning everything in our lives. Discovering what it is and understanding how we harness the power it gives us is the key to our future success and happiness/fulfilment.

Imagine as you come to the final stages of your life, sitting in your favourite chair on your veranda, enjoying the warmth of the evening sunset and looking back on your life. Could you encapsulate in one or two words what you had tried to achieve. What would you be remembered for? What was your ‘intention’ in life?

This is not an easy question to answer, and in my case took many years to unravel.

When, aged 25, I formed my corporate dental business, Barbican Dental Care, my vision was to provide affordable, high quality, private dentistry to busy city workers (at the time private dentistry was not widely available and was considered a privilege of the chosen few). I also wanted to create a model whereby I could develop a business that would not be purely reliant on my dental skills. Mixing my professional vocation with commercial enterprise was very appealing and I thoroughly enjoyed the excitement of pitching and winning new corporate contracts.

So what was my intention? Fighting elitism, freedom, commercial success? It could be all of these. But looking back, none really described what I would want to be remembered for.

As the business expanded I began to appreciate and enjoy the connection I made with my employees, especially if I could contribute to their growth and development. Realising the fulfilment this gave me, in 2012 I launched an apprenticeship programme for disadvantaged young people in Tower Hamlets to help them to flourish in the same way. The pleasure I experienced in seeing them develop into valued team members outshone my previous achievements. Looking back perhaps my intention was ‘empowerment’ all along. Certainly I see this very much my focus for the future.

I want to leave you with one final thought today. When your intention in business is completely clear and you remain on that path, the results can be quite astounding.

Steve Jobs wanted to change the world through beautiful design. This single intention changed all our lives and built the world’s most profitable company.

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